16 December 2010

More thoughts sparked by a recent Velveteen Rabbi post here: http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2010/12/the-forest-beyond-the-trees.html

I'm glad to see more endorsement of the view To tree, or not to tree? That's not really the question! There's a lot here to consider, and I'm looking forward to exploring the many links and seeing the conversation that continues to develop!

That said -- my own experiences growing up with a Jewish mother & non-Jewish father don't lead me to agree with Susan that, because I as a child of intermarriage am "equally related to both parents, and both sides of the family, ...it is not so easy to define what is 'yours' and what is 'someone else's,' no matter how clearly you try to define their religious label." The latter part may be true for plenty of families, particularly if they don't feel comfortable joining in or affiliating with one or more of the existing religious/communal choices in their landscape (and I applaud "independent interfaith family communities" for creating ones that they find to work better) -- but it doesn't follow inevitably from the former proposition.

I'm Jewish. (And my father is not.) My spouse is Jewish. (And his family is not.) My daughter is Jewish. (And three of her grandparents, plus the majority of her aunts-and-uncles, are not.) The tree is not for me, or him, or her. The menorah is, the shabbat candles are, the sukkah in the backyard is. My in-laws will have a stocking hanging over the fireplace for each of us, as my father's mother did when we spent Christmas at her house in my childhood -- but that's part of their celebration, not ours. When we are on home turf, there are no stockings and evergreens and lights.

I understand that it's a different story when there's more than one religious tradition being actively celebrated under that roof -- after all, you can see my young self smiling with my brother in front of our name-emblazoned stockings in my parents' living room in photos from the year my father's mother was living with us, before she passed away. But that didn't make it any more my holiday than when we had previously visited her in her own home.

That this holiday is indeed "someone else's" doesn't make me less related to my non-Jewish relatives -- but it does mark that the ties that bind us are not those of religion...even if I open presents with them on December 25th; even if they spend Shabbat or a seder with me or other Jewish family members. We can celebrate occasions together whose basis may be religious for one party, but that doesn't make their religion mine or my holiday theirs.

I do agree that the language of the "guest" or "respectful tourist" (with regard to a religious tradition not one's own) assumes easy insides & outsides that don't obtain in a family of mixed religious background. For me, then "inside" and "outside" are different from "mine" and "someone else's": Christmas isn't mine, but it's part of my family memories and experiences; Judaism isn't my father's religion, but he's not an outsider at the seder.

And even though we don't tree, I think that "rabbis and religious teachers [who] tell these children and parents that they cannot have a tree" would do better to focus on what positive Jewish practices or customs they would like to encourage (you're cheered by greenery? put some up at Shavuot! you like assembling & decorating a holiday structure? here are some suggestions for Sukkot!) instead of finger-wagging about firs.

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